Someone recently told me that the posts here on Storyfix – not to mention my writing workshops – are very much a 101 proposition. Entry level. It’s boot camp, spring training, freshman creative writing.
So be it. That’s not remotely a bad thing.
I’d say that well over 99% of the writers out there, including myself and the vast majority of published writers, need to focus right here in this 101 wheelhouse – because we make or break our writing dream with our evolving grasp of the fundamentals.
The rest is just style and taste, things that are easier learned than taught.
I was watching Californication on Showtime last night – David Duchovny’s homage to Los Angeles literary decadence – and it was postulated that writing cannot be taught. It can only be shown and then hopefully, doubtfully, discovered.
That’s not today’s analogy – it’s not an analogy at all – but it is an interesting proposition.
That same someone challenged me to come up with something really advanced. Something grad school, high-minded, esoteric and downright chewy, something intellectually challenging for even the most jaded and worn-out of writers.
Welcome to the coolest analogy for a story I’ve ever heard.
One that, when you apply it to the books and movies you love, will instantly validate itself in your jaded, worn-out writer’s mind.
We think of our stories in terms of what they are. We write mysteries, we write romances, we write science fiction. They are novels and screenplays and short stories and memoirs and the occasional abbreviated tweet.
What is genre and category, and it’s something you absolutely need to understand if you aspire to being published.
Valid as this is, and as important as the rules of genre are, there’s another way to think about your story.
Maybe even a better way. A way that can impart an essence otherwise difficult to describe, an elusive value-add that might very well take it to a higher level, however subtle. Because subtlety is required.
Roll with me on this. It can be hard to wrap your head around at first.
Try thinking of your story in terms of who, rather than what.
Because at the end of the day an effective story is very much like a person. It’s a creation that is alive with personality. It has strengths and weaknesses, it has moods and aspirations and regrets and deeply held values.
It is multi-faceted, unpredictable, perhaps even dangerous and toxic.
It is beautiful or scarred, perhaps both, in its unique way.
It can nurture, it can heal, it can inspire to exhilarating heights.
It can drive you mad, titillate and frustrate, infuriate and instigate.
Just like the people you know best in this world.
When you view your story through this lens, you must ask yourself – what is the personality of my story? What is the humor, the warmth, the agenda, the barely hidden angst, the bubbling enthusiasm, the untapped potential, the buried truth, of this person that has taken the form of a story?
The answer, the reflection, isn’t solely that of your protagonist.
Because like an individual, a story is the sum of environment and culture juxtaposed against the frail complexities of an individual, and as such encompasses the collective whole of what you’ve created on the page.
So step back from your story and regard what you’re bringing into the world, perhaps as a parent regards a child or a betrothed beholds a mate.
Is that person, this being that you have summoned forth as a story, a gift to the universe? A fresh surprise and a source of energy and inspiration? A window into something otherwise unseen?
Perhaps, with this perspective, you may sense a moment that can be seized or a spec of dust that can be cleaned away. Listen closely, because this person that has become your story may whisper something to you that you can spin into literary gold.
For it is that level of detail, the management of the imperceptible and the engineering of the diabolically subtle, that will breath the stuff of life into your story, and thus make it reach out to caress and seduce the reader in ways and with repercussions even you, its creator, cannot fathom.
Just as your child will touch those whom you will never meet.
Just as it’s already grabbed you.
So, too, must you introduce it to – and prepare it for – the world, as you would your child.
Because once introduced it stands alone, armed only with what you’ve imparted to it, with whatever measure of love and wisdom you have in you.